Iowa Lawmakers Make Progress With Pro-Life Constitutional Amendment
The Iowa Supreme Court found a ‘right to abortion’ under the state’s constitution in 2018. The proposed amendment would nullify the court’s finding.
Iowa lawmakers have laid the groundwork for a proposed state constitutional amendment to prevent recognition of abortion as a legal right, countering a state Supreme Court decision. The main questions now are whether the legislation will pass as soon as possible and whether voters will back the amendment on a statewide ballot as early as 2024.
One pro-life group says it is important to pass the legislation during the current legislative year, which is expected to close soon.
“We’ve worked hard to educate Iowans and also advocate to our legislators that we feel very strongly in getting the Protect Life Amendment passed this session,” Maggie DeWitte, executive director of Iowans for Life, told the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
The Iowa Supreme Court found a “right to abortion” under the state’s constitution in 2018. That ruling struck down a 72-hour waiting period for abortion, on the grounds that “a woman’s right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy is a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution.” The proposed amendment would nullify the court’s finding.
DeWitte said the 2018 ruling was a “mistake” that was “even more extreme than Roe v. Wade,” the 1973 decision that mandated permissive abortion laws nationwide.
She said the amendment will allow Iowa voters and their elected representatives to make decisions about health and safety. Without the amendment, the state cannot prevent late-term abortions, “even up to the point of birth.”
A proposed constitutional amendment must be approved by two consecutive legislative sessions before going to the ballot. The current legislative session will conclude in 2022.
The Iowa Catholic Conference has testified in support of the amendment, saying it would make the state’s constitution “abortion-neutral.”
“Without this change, if or when Roe v. Wade is struck down or federal law is modified, abortion will remain a fundamental right in Iowa,” the conference said in 2019. The state Supreme Court decision means strong scrutiny for “any regulation of abortion or efforts to restrict its public funding.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Steve Holt, R-Denison, said the proposal would pass either this year or next year, but this would not affect when it goes on the ballot.
The House version of the amendment was written on the principle “simpler is better,” Holt told the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
“To defend and protect unborn children, we the people of the State of Iowa declare that this Constitution does not recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion,” said the proposed amendment.
The Iowa Senate’s version also speaks about protecting “mothers and unborn children from efforts to expand abortion even to the day of birth.” It says the Iowa Constitution “shall not be construed” to recognize abortion as a right or to require public funding of abortions.
The Senate version was approved on a 30-17 party-line vote.
Senate President Jake Chapman, R-Adel, said the nature of the proposal as a constitutional amendment means “we need to be very careful about what we propose and get language right.”
A language compromise has been reached, according to Hold and Chapman.
Possible debate over the wording could include efforts to create constitutional protections for abortion in cases where the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest or to preserve the life of the mother, the Cedar Rapids Gazette has reported.
DeWitte advocated for speedy passage for the amendment.
“It’s better for us to get it passed this session so we can work on some other important pro-life and pro-family bills in the next legislative session,” she said.
Abortion backers were critical of the effort.
Jamie Burch Elliott, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood Advocates Iowa, said the proposed amendment is “laying the groundwork to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.”
Elliott said that Planned Parenthood’s polling reports that only one-third of voters would vote for the amendment.
DeWitte said Iowans for Life’s polling reports that voters will favor the amendment when they understand it is “really about preventing unelected judges from forcing late-term abortion and taxpayer-funded abortion on Iowans.”